SpaceX's latest attempt to make a powered landing on a sea barge has ended in failure. At 10:51 am PST, a Falcon 9 booster touched down on the unmanned drone barge "Just Read the Instructions" in Pacific Ocean 250 miles (402 km) off San Diego, but telemetry indicated that a landing leg buckled on touchdown. The failed landing came about nine minutes after the Falcon 9 delivered the Jason-3 mission into a polar low-Earth orbit.
Jason-3 lifted off at 10:42 am PST from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, under foggy skies with winds of 5 mph (8 km/h). At one minute, 18 seconds into the flight, the Falcon 9 rocket reached the moment of peak mechanical stress followed by first stage shutdown at two minutes, 34 seconds. Three seconds later, the second stage separated and fired at the two minutes, 45 seconds mark. Fifty five minutes after liftoff, the second stage briefly fired again and one minute later the Jason-3 satellite deployed.
Operated by the USNOAA, NASA, the French Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES), and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), Jason-3 is designed to collect long-term satellite altimetry observations of global sea surface height to measure sea level rise, as well as provide forecasting of hurricanes, surface waves. tides and currents, coastal conditions, and El Niño and La Niña events.
Meanwhile, the Falcon 9 first stage, instead of crashing into the ocean, re-oriented itself and executed a "boostback" burn to kill its suborbital hypersonic velocity, followed by a re-entry burn three minutes later to further slow it down. As it re-entered the atmosphere, A set of vanes deployed on the top of the booster and acted as rudders to guide the rocket down. as it approached the barge, the engines fired for a final time before touching down nine minutes after liftoff. Telemetry indicated that the landing was harder than planned, resulting in a landing leg failure and the rocket falling over.
On December 21, 2015, a Falcon 9 booster flew into the history books as it touched down on Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida for the first powered landing of a space rocket on land. Today's attempt was the third time SpaceX has tried to land on an unmanned drone barge at sea.
Update January 17: Elon Musk posted a video to his personal Instagram account hours after the landing attempt took place and it is well worth a look. After further reviewing the data, SpaceX announced that the booster landed softly within 1.3 m of the droneship's center, but one of the four legs didn't lockout, leaving it to topple over. Musk says this may have been caused by ice buildup resulting from condensation due to heavy fog at launch.